'Frowback' Friday: Looking Back at Cambridge Analytica, Social Media and the Presidential Race
Right now, as the presidential campaigns start moving faster and faster, it's worth taking a look at some of the Facebook data stories from last fall around Cambridge Analytica. Data points sold by Facebook to political campaigns and corporations around the world, are now really swinging into play with political advertising that’s probably reaching hundreds of millions of people. This is not just everyday advertising, this is advertising that's designed to manipulate consumers emotions.
Watching all of the infighting among different Democratic Party candidate supporters in the run-up to the super Tuesday primaries, I've been thinking a lot about a book I've been reading, by Brittany Kaiser, called Targeted: The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower's Inside Story of How Big Data, Trump, and Facebook Broke Democracy and How It Can Happen Again. The depth of scientific manipulation of the voting public on social media platforms by the Donald Trump presidential campaign was unique. It actually was designed to start fights exactly like what we're seeing play out then and again right now.
Michael Wade's article from two years ago lays it out perfectly:
"Cambridge Analytica was contracted to the Trump campaign and provided an entirely new weapon for the election machine. While it also used demographic segments to identify groups of voters, as Clinton’s campaign had, Cambridge Analytica also segmented using psychographics. As definitions of class, education, employment, age and so on, demographics are informational. Psychographics are behavioural – a means to segment by personality."
One of my favorite trends to watch lately are all the ways journalists and other media movers are ingeniously working around internet shutdowns and other technical problems. Like when Hong Kong protesters last year worked around internet shut-downs with the Bluetooth-based Bridgefy app. My favorite innovation champ, Ren LaForme, wrote recently about El Timpano as a tool for publishers to text news out to their readers, find out more here.
Right now I’m especially fascinated by Outlier Media’s smartphone text-based news distribution networks that allow users a custom opportunity to dig into important information -- even details about their own home.
“Outlier is service journalism on demand. We deliver high value information directly to news consumers over text message and offer every user the ability to connect directly with a reporter. Txt OUTLIER to 73224 to see how it works. If you’re looking for important info on any home in Detroit delivered right to your phone txt DETROIT to 73224.”
Last month Outlier merged with the nationally-focused MuckRock, and vowed to bring their projects to a larger audience.
This is how crucial their work is.
As we stumble into the 2020 presidential election horse race, this is a good time to look at all the tools out here to fact-check what you’re consuming in the media environment. There are a few nonprofit news organizations focusing on accuracy in media and fact-checking, but my favorite is the international organization First Draft News (dive Into their website for reports and tip sheets on how to cut through "information disorder" -- their term -- translated into five languages). They have -what I think of as The Magical Dashboard, linking to dozens and dozens of places you can factcheck photos, videos, social media posts and more. Go look at it right away!
First Draft News came up with the SHEEP standard for decision making when it comes to sharing links on social media (source, history, evidence, emotion, pictures). Last month I was able to attend one of First Draft News’ day-long training workshops on combating “disinformation disorder” in the US Census and the national elections coming up in November. Virtually all of the content taught at First Draft’s workshop is covered in this incredible series of free downloadable reports, including “Verifying Online Information,” “Closed Groups, Messaging Apps and Online Ads,” and starting with “Understanding Information Disorder.” . Check them out and support their work!
Join me Friday morning at 9am on KBOO Community Radio for a special tribute to local journalist Dave Mazza, who passed away this week after a long battle with cancer. Dave inspired many young reporters in his work at The Alliance newspaper and thousands of listeners as the talk radio co-host of KBOO's Voices from the Edge alongside JoAnn A Hardesty. We'll highlight Dave's years of activism for police accountability and elections reform, especially his investigative report that helped topple a police chief and the voting reform ballot initiative that almost won. Tune in and celebrate a friend and compatriot, Friday April 27 at 9am on the Mighty 90.7FM, KBOO Radio in Portland, 91.9 FM in Hood River and 104.3 FM Corvallis/Albany. Also tune in on the KBOO App for Android and for Iphone..
My beloved colleague Dave Mazza has entered hospice care after a long illness, and I wanted to take a few lines to talk about how he helped change the course of Portland history.
As so often happens in my town, we had just hired a new police chief -- this one was named Mark Kroeker. As the chief was introduced to the city his strengths were trumpeted to the skies, like they always are.
But in a funky little Southeast office, Dave had become the editor of the Portland Alliance newspaper, a monthly founded by a coalition of grassroots activist groups in the 1970s to cover social issues because the mainstream media did not (media nerds: this was straight up solutions journalism before there was a name for it. Full disclosure: I too was an editor of the Portland Alliance newspaper. Frankly, a lot of what we did was critiquing the movement, and it would be useful today if it were still around.).
The year was 1999, so Dave picked up that newfangled thing called the Internet and just googled the heck out of Mark Kroeker (“google” was not a term at the time). Dave found bizarre audio recordings of Kroeker talking about parenting and saying some unacceptable things. The Los Angeles Times wrote about it, along with context on the other two “strikes” against Kroeker and more. He was forced out within two and a half years and immediately took a job leading “peacekeepers” in Liberia.
This short era was a turning point in law enforcement history for our town, because Kroeker essentially militarized the Portland police. It was under him that the “robocop”-style of riot police was created that plagues the city today. Dave covered it like a blanket.
Dave also went on to challenge the city’s electoral system, to paint gorgeous landscapes and to co-host “Voices from the Edge” Talk Radio with JoAnn Hardesty on KBOO Community Radio for many years. I want to thank Dave Mazza for his contribution to our city and encourage others to step up and use the tools of journalism to make our world a better place.
I have spent years working in newsrooms where Facebook was the tail that wagged the dog -- brilliant journalists worked their fingers to the bone on impactful reporting, then crossed fingers that the social media they’d spent so many hours kitting out with “SEO” would bring readers. Sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t; now Facebook has been caught with its data in the wrong cookie jar after already being punished for messing around with the cookie jar. What does that mean for your new big idea about citizen journalism? It looks like the biggest platform for small media projects is running around with its head cut off for now. Meanwhile go ahead and check out the live spectacle of Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional grilling here.
I often meet people who are expert an areas of interest that impact society, and who are perfect candidates for independent journalism. Health insurance financial counselors, volunteer community organizers, small business owners -- it is amazing how much practical knowledge and experience everyday people have to share (you'll realize just how smart you are after you go over and pick up my basics of journalism podcast series which has a marching band musical soundtrack to get you moving). But once you have that great idea for a podcast or blog, where do you share it? It doesn't hurt to start out small. The Los Angeles Times reported this week on Facebook's new plans to compete with Youtube by helping video "creators" to monetize their work right there on the platform -- monetize just means "make a little cash on the side." It's a very interesting story worth noting for anyone thinking about going professional and striking out for the next level of skills and drive. Meanwhile, news also broke that a private company with ties to the Trump presidential campaign allegedly "scraped" information from Facebook analytics, which triggered a multinational crisis and a market crash in Facebook stock.
Lisa Loving is the trainer-in-residence at "Street Journalist: Understand and Report the News in Your Community," available at Powell's Books and Microcosm.com